3 Mar 2011

"Natural" is not necessarily good (2)

You my remember a recent rant I had here about how "natural" wines is a silly term, and a misleading one as well. Here is the link:

In case you haven't the time to read it, the gist of the article is that since all things in nature are not necessarily "good" (nature is amoral), therefore the assumption that a so-called "natural" wine is going to be better for your health, or the planet, than a less "natural" wine is probably erroneous. And that this kind of simplistic thinking is just another fad to stop people from thinking and that it is high time to use more complex thought processes about our relationship to nature. 

I am increasingly uneasy with regard to the "organic" or "bio" wave that is unfurling throughout developed countries. Of course one has to protect natural ressources and take care that dangerous substances (often hard to define by the way) are not put into food or drink. But what the French call "biological" (ie. organic) agriculture does not seem to me to be necessarily the best solution in every case. In the field of vineyard management, for exemple, most honest farmers involved in this approach freely admit that the carbon footprint left by their activities may well be more negative when going organic than under "conventional" agriculture, simply because they have to treat their vines more frequently (with products authorised under their various organic charters) and thus use much more diesel fuel for their tractors.

But this is just one aspect, as I noticed when reading a recent report published in the American journal called Environmental Health Perspectives, by researchrs from the NIH. This spoke about increased risks of Parkinson's Disease occurring among people who have been expose to two products used on all kinds of crops. One of these is paraquat, a synthetic herbicide; the other one is rotenone, a "natural" pesticide. Rotenone is an extract from various tropical plants and has been in use in organic farming for many years. In France, it was officially withdrawn from the market in 2008, but farmers, including vinegrowers, may continue to use it until April 2011. There seems to be no substitute for rotenone at the moment.

Now I lack the technical expertise to go into any more detail, but it seems to me that this proves my point that one should strongly resist making a necessary connection between organic farming and good health. And I have not yet mentioned the sometimes heavy use of copper sulfate on vines (authorised under organic farming rules) and its bad effects on soil life.

No, what is "natural" is NOT always "good". Step carefully through that jungle!